Issue: Excavations at Jeffrey Street, Edinburgh: the development of closes and tenements north of the Royal Mile during the 16th-18th centuries

Publication Type
Abstract Excavations on the site of a former tannery to the rear of Edinburgh's High Street produced evidence for the infilling of medieval burgage plots from the 16th century onwards. Walls defining a terrace and a burgage plot boundary suggest a considerable investment in at least some of the backlands during the medieval period, but these structures later went out of use, corresponding to a widely documented decline in Scottish towns during the 14th century. During the late 16th century, substantial buildings with cellars on either side of a paved close represent the first appearance of the multi-storey tenement buildings that characterise much of the Old Town. These buildings provide the basis for a discussion of the character of urbanisation in late 16th- and early 17th-century Edinburgh. The cellars were demolished and backfilled with refuse at different dates between the 1640s and 1740s. Finds from these refuse deposits are highly significant as a sample of changing consumption patterns during this period. During the 18th century the area appears to have declined in status and taken on a more industrial character; later, a tannery was established on part of the site by the 1830s, which expanded to cover much of the site by the 1880s.
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Author Paul Masser
Michael Kimber
Julie Franklin
Morag Cross
Auli Tourunen
Issue Editor Helen Bleck
Publisher Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
Year of Publication 2014
Volume 58
Source DigitalBorn
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Abstract
Paul Masser
Michael Kimber
Julie Franklin
Morag Cross
Auli Tourunen
1 - 68
Excavations on the site of a former tannery to the rear of Edinburgh's High Street produced evidence for the infilling of medieval burgage plots from the 16th century onwards. Walls defining a terrace and a burgage plot boundary suggest a considerable investment in at least some of the backlands during the medieval period, but these structures later went out of use, corresponding to a widely documented decline in Scottish towns during the 14th century. During the late 16th century, substantial buildings with cellars on either side of a paved close represent the first appearance of the multi-storey tenement buildings that characterise much of the Old Town. These buildings provide the basis for a discussion of the character of urbanisation in late 16th- and early 17th-century Edinburgh. The cellars were demolished and backfilled with refuse at different dates between the 1640s and 1740s. Finds from these refuse deposits are highly significant as a sample of changing consumption patterns during this period. During the 18th century the area appears to have declined in status and taken on a more industrial character; later, a tannery was established on part of the site by the 1830s, which expanded to cover much of the site by the 1880s.
1
Excavations on the site of a former tannery to the rear of Edinburgh's High Street produced evidence for the infilling of medieval burgage plots from the 16th century onwards. Walls defining a terrace and a burgage plot boundary suggest a considerable investment in at least some of the backlands during the medieval period, but these structures later went out of use, corresponding to a widely documented decline in Scottish towns during the 14th century. During the late 16th century, substantial buildings with cellars on either side of a paved close represent the first appearance of the multi-storey tenement buildings that characterise much of the Old Town. These buildings provide the basis for a discussion of the character of urbanisation in late 16th- and early 17th-century Edinburgh. The cellars were demolished and backfilled with refuse at different dates between the 1640s and 1740s. Finds from these refuse deposits are highly significant as a sample of changing consumption patterns during this period. During the 18th century the area appears to have declined in status and taken on a more industrial character; later, a tannery was established on part of the site by the 1830s, which expanded to cover much of the site by the 1880s.
2 - 5
This chapter considers previous work in the immediate vicinity, site location, topography, geology and map regression.
6 - 9
The site extended across nine burgage plots, from North Gray's Close on the west to Chalmer's Close on the east. The plots were consistently referred to in their sale details, called lawyers' protocols, by the surnames of previous owners, frequently those active in the 15th century, and this ownership history became fossilised within the later records. There are sections in this chapter on the site and its general setting, occupants in the 16th century, the 1635 House Mails book, other 17th-century sources and the 18th-19th centuries.
10 - 27
The excavated remains have been grouped into four phases; however, given their distribution in two separate areas, and across a number of burgage plots and on different levels, exact contemporaneity cannot be assumed. The sequences in Areas A and B are described separately since there is nothing to tie them together stratigraphically. In broad terms, Phase 1 denotes the period up to the late 15th/early 16th century, during which the backlands of the burgage plots do not appear to have been built up, and the evidence largely consists of pits and buried soil deposits. During phase 2, the first substantial buildings on the site appear. Although the date of construction of these buildings is not easy to demonstrate, this coincides with the well-documented expansion of Edinburgh from the late 16th and 17th centuries. Phase 3, from the mid 18th to the 19th century, saw widespread demolition and redevelopment on the site; further redevelopment in the late 19th century, assigned to phase 4, followed the building of Waverley Station and the creation of Jeffrey Street, and included the expansion of the tannery over the western part of the site.
28 - 42
The finds assemblage covered the whole range of occupation in the area, from as early as the 12th or 13th century to the 20th century. However, it was the 17th- and 18th-century assemblages which stood out, in terms of quantity, quality and context. The medieval material, including pottery and a distinctive buckle, provided some useful dating evidence but did not add anything new to our knowledge of the material culture of medieval Edinburgh. The 17th- and 18th-century material on the other hand was related to the occupation and backfill of several stone-built cellars and rooms in Area A. The artefacts are described by feature rather than material group and includes pottery, glass wine bottles, maiolica tiles and clay pipes.
43 - 45
Most of the identified mammal specimens derive from domestic animals. The assemblage is dominated by sheep or goat flowed by cattle and pig. Dog, cat, rabbit, rat, mouse and shrew were also presented. Most of the fish bones derive from the cod family. Identified species were haddock and cod. The herring family was represented by probably herring. In addition, a small number of turbot or brill, flatfish and salmon family were found. A total of 43 bird bones mostly belong to the domestic chicken. The bones identified as goose and duck might belong to wild or domestic bird.
46
The quantity of carbonised plant remains was low from all contexts, generally limited to small quantities of poorly preserved grains of oat, barley and club/bread wheat, which suggests that grain was not being processed anywhere on or near the site. Exotic plant remains were represented by only two charred grape pips. Wood charcoal was poorly preserved and found in very small quantities.
47 - 49
The site demonstrates the process by which the medieval framework of burgage plots was filled in during the 16th-18th centuries. The late 16th and 17th centuries arguably represent the floruit of the Old Town, a period of dramatic change that has been much discussed by historians but has seen rather less attention from archaeologists.
50
51 - 52
The results of the ICP analyses of redware and maiolica from Jeffrey Street have identified two items of Dutch redware, the rest being Scottish, with apparently close links to redware found at other sites in Edinburgh. All the maiolica and delftware analysed was made in the Low Countries, with a strong possibility of being made at Antwerp.
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